Rebecca Harris and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong in “The Half-Life of Marie Curie” / Photo: Wesley Hitt
Fayetteville residents would have been among the first in the country outside of New York to see a live production of “The Half-Life of Marie Curie.” The show, fresh off a Broadway run, was scheduled to take the stage in late March of 2021.
Now, Fayetteville residents – and those far beyond the city limits – will be among the first to see a lived-streamed version of “The Half-Life of Marie Curie.” The show, produced in Fayetteville by TheatreSquared, will debut Nov. 28.
Like nearly everything, T2 closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to restructure its plans and operational procedures to continue hosting events. It meant shifting the schedule around, and considering the current acceleration of case numbers, producing shows without audience members. The show marks the theater company’s first fully-staged, new production of its current season.
What: “The Half Life of Marie Curie”
When: Nov. 28-Dec. 11
Where: Digital streams
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or theatre2.org
Info: Tickets purchased allow the ticketholder to view the high definition livestream of this performance at home. The performance will be available to view as many times as possible between 12 p.m. on the ticket date and 12 p.m. the following day.
Once streaming rights were negotiated, TheatreSquared brought together the creative team to stage the production. Filmed from a series of performances done inside the downtown Fayetteville theater, the show can be viewed for about two weeks. It is a full production, with purpose-built sets and national-level talent, but presented to cameras instead of a packed theater.
It’s a two-woman show, featuring Fayetteville native (and movie and television regular) Rebecca Harris in the lead role as famed Polish-French physicist Marie Curie and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong as fellow scientist and personal confidant Hertha Ayrton. In Fayetteville, the show is under the direction of Dawn Monique Williams. “The Half-Life of Marie Curie” examines what the two scientists might have said to each other when Curie stayed with her friend after retreating from the public eye when it was discovered that Curie, a widower, was having an affair with a married man. The play comes from the pen of Lauren Gunderson, the country’s top-produced playwright in 2019. TheatreSquared has previously produced a play by Gunderson – “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” which took the stage in 2018.
There’s an unplanned but welcome thematic element in T2’s return to its 15th anniversary season, as science plays a major role. And there’s also a timely consideration of the role of the national media. It was their hounding of Curie that drove the scientist to retreat from France to Ayrton’s seaside retreat.
“The press was horrible to her. She couldn’t escape,” says Harris, who has been winding down after rehearsals each night by reading from biographies about Curie.
The show isn’t a note-for-note history lesson, however. There’s a lot of humor, Harris said, and there’s strength via sisterhood. In their review of the New York production, Time Out New York said the play was “A frisky, feminist crowd-pleaser, ‘The Half-life of Marie Curie’ radiates empowerment.”
Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Rebecca Harris in “The Half-Life of Marie Curie” / Photo: Wesley Hitt
At its core, the show is a tale of two friends – both women, both widowers, and both amazing scientists. Their bond and the time away from her lab reinvigorated Curie.
“She credits Hertha with giving her a life back,” Harris said.
And Curie would go on giving life back, too. One of her pursuits after her return to science was an effort to establish mobile x-ray units that she drove through World War I battlefields.
And that’s what Harris says the audience can take away from the production.
Curie made it through and continued her work. And armed with science, truth and perseverance, we can make it through, too.